European voice

Everything is perception. Perception is everything.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 13 Comments

mirror, mirrorSome people believe that auditioning is nothing but a numbers game.

Let me tell you a story.

Two groups of kids were playing outside. Someone had written a big number 6 on the street, and a fight had broken out because of it.

One group claimed that the number was actually a 9. The other group insisted it was a 6. Before the debate got totally out of hand, a little girl shouted:

“You’re all wrong. Can’t you see it’s just a circle with a line?”

The kids decided that she was right and they went on to do some cloud spotting. But as they were lying in the grass, another fight broke out.

“That cloud looks just like a giant elf,” said one of them.

“No way,” said another kid. “It’s a fairy. Anyone can see that!”


How on earth is it possible to come to very different conclusions, based on the same input? Well, the simple answer is that most of us tend to select information based on what resonates with our model of the world. The rest is conveniently filtered out. In other words:

We see what we want to see, and we hear what we want to hear.

A young psychologist decided to test this principle. During a road trip to promote his first book, he had breakfast in a different diner every morning. And every morning he ordered “scramberred eggs.” Not once did a waitress ask: “Excuse me sir, what did you just say?” He always got a plate of scrambled eggs, because that’s what the waitress believed he said.

As a trained journalist I happen to be a professional skeptic. I was taught to always check my sources, and in the absence of empirical evidence, do my own fact-finding. So, when I read the “scramberred eggs” anecdote, I decided to put it to the test, but with a slight twist.


One of my favorite sound engineers was a huge fan of a crooner known for songs like “Stardust,” “Mona Lisa,” and “When I Fall in Love.” During a break I innocently asked:

“Hey Mike, did you know that they just discovered an unknown recording by Napkin Cole?”

He said: “Really? Where did you hear that?”

For the next half hour, all we talked about was Napkin Cole. I must have pronounced the name at least 40 times that way, and not once did Mike raise an eyebrow. It was unforgettable… Next week I will ask him about his favorite female jazz singer: Elephant Gerald.

Having strong preconceptions is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, taking things for granted means that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s the principle of generalization upon which all learning is based. On the other hand, it closes us off to valuable new information. Worst of all, it seems to happen beyond our control.

For us voice-over pros this can be frightening. Whenever we record a demo, we’re basing our approach on our take on the text. We put that info through our filters and come up with a unique interpretation of the script. That part we can control. But once this demo reaches the ears of the client, everything depends on what unknown filters are operating in his or her brain. Sometimes, the effect can be unexpected and surprising.


A few years ago, I auditioned for an amazing job. It was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities, and I just knew that it was going to be my big break. Needless to say, I pulled out all the stops to make sure my demo was spot-on. Only after I was completely satisfied that I had absolutely nailed it, did I send my demo on its way.

An hour later I received a generic rejection. It was a huge slap in the face, and I felt like a complete failure. I listened to my demo over and over again, and I couldn’t figure out what had gone so horribly wrong.

A year later I finally got the answer.

By chance I ran into a colleague of the voice-seeker who had so cruelly crushed my dreams. He recognized my voice, and we started talking about that fateful project I had auditioned for.

I said to him: “I have to ask… I know I would have been perfect for this project. Tell me: Why didn’t I get the job?”

He paused for a moment and replied:

“I know exactly why.

You sounded too much like the producer’s ex-boyfriend.”

When I heard those words, two very conflicting emotions boiled up to the surface. I was both livid and relieved. My angry ego shouted: How could this woman have been so unprofessional?

At the same time I was glad to know that there was nothing I could have done to change her mind.

Ancient wisdom tells us that the world we see is a mirror of who we are.

Everything is perception.

Perception is everything.

It is written in the clouds.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

Who’s Sabotaging Your Success?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 2 Comments

“The success of your business is equivalent to the strength of your relationships.”

It almost sounds like a slogan from one of those inspirational posters, doesn’t it? You know… the ones with pictures of eagles soaring over pristine mountain peaks. You can find these pearls of wisdom on coffee mugs, calendars and on mouse pads.

Because some of these truths are so trivialized, we’ve become as immune to them as to the violence in video games or human suffering on the evening news. 


If you’ve read the first two installments of this series, “Voice Over Nightmares” and “Our Own Worst Critic,” you know that I’m using Gordon Ramsay’s TV-show “Kitchen Nightmares” as a metaphor. I’m trying to cut through the pre-orchestrated reality drama, in the hopes of uncovering recipes you and I can prepare to boost our business.

Today, the focus is on relationships.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a freelancer, is believing that you are a one-man (or one woman)-band on an island in the midst of a shark-infested ocean. Although it sometimes might seem that way, you’re not all alone in the universe.

This business revolves around relationships: relationships with our clients; with our team; with our significant others and ultimately… the relationship we have with ourselves (or is that too woo-woo for you?).

These inner and outer circles constantly connect and interact. Great relationships can motivate and energize us to do great things. Terrible relationships can suck the life blood out of us and our business.


Before you step up to the mic, think about how many people have already been involved in the project you’re about to work on: the end client and her team, the ad agency, the production company, script writers, animators, translators, your agent or the people at that Voices-site.

If you happen to record in a studio, you’ll probably work with a director and a sound engineer. Once the product is finished, the circle widens again as your voice reaches an audience. All of a sudden, your tiny island has become very crowded… There are a lot of people you need to please!


Whether he’s in the British Midlands or in the heart of Manhattan, Gordon Ramsay always encounters dysfunctional families and co-workers on the verge of a nervous breakdown. To get a good sense of the internal dynamics of a restaurant, he insists on observing how a team deals with the stress of a full service. It’s his chance to find out what really goes on underneath the veneer of polite pretentiousness.

Early in the night, Ramsay will notice three things: the chef/owner can’t communicate, can’t delegate and can’t even cook. Let’s start with the first problem: lack of communication.


Some owners won’t communicate because they have something to hide. Often, their mismanagement has resulted in a financial mess. Not even their spouse or partner knows how much in debt they are, and when these people finally find out, they feel betrayed, dismayed and ready to walk. That’s why “Kitchen Nightmares” frequently turns into a “Relationship Rescue.”

Sometimes, team members can’t be trusted: an accountant cooks the books (a bad thing, especially in an eatery); a server helps himself to the register.


Some chefs are dictators. All they do is boss people around, complain and criticize. It’s always somebody else’s fault. Praise is a dirty word. Compliments are for the weak. A team has to listen and obey. And if you don’t like it, you are free to leave!

By taking the employees for granted, many owners lose the respect and trust of the very people they depend on, to turn their business around.


Then there are chefs and owners who believe that they’re an open book… you know what I mean by that, don’t you? They expect the world to read their mind, and if that world is not on the same page, guess who gets blamed? This type of behavior is based on unrealistic expectations that can never be met, and it’s a relationship killer (in and out of the kitchen).


So, let’s look at the flipside.

If a business wishes to survive and thrive, it needs to be built upon honesty, respect and openness.

Be honest with yourself and dare to ask the hard questions: Do I really have what it takes? How much am I in the red? How many weeks before I have to pull the plug? What’s my plan B?

Secondly: who’s on your team? Can they handle the job or are they sabotaging your success? Have you taken the time to monitor and evaluate their performance?

A year ago, you made an investment in one of those voice-over websites. Since then, you auditioned like never before. Did the staff deliver? How many gigs did you get? What’s the ROI?

Have you heard from your webmaster, lately? He promised to update your demos. What’s taking him so long? And what about your agent? Has she forgotten that you exist?


What would your team members have to say about you? Are you stressed, short-tempered and impatient because you’re feeling the heat? Are you willing to listen and are you ready to implement suggestions? When’s the last time you paid someone a sincere compliment? Did you let your partner know how much you appreciate the fact that he or she is there for you through thick and thin?

Now think about your clients. When’s the last time you reached out to all those smart people that have hired you in the past? Why did you neglect them? What could you do today, to reestablish the connection?


When it comes to mind reading, I have news for you: most of us aren’t born with psychic powers. We spend a lifetime figuring out what goes on in our own head; let alone what goes on in the minds of others. All the same, we tend to forget the advice our favorite teacher once gave us:

“Never assume. Always ask.”

Seconds later, we run into the studio, script in hand, and we glance at the voice-seeker’s instructions: “Male or Female, English, enthusiastic but not over the top.”

What’s that supposed to mean? How can you ever arrive at your destination when someone hands you vague directions?

Can you ask the client for specifics? I’m afraid you’re out of luck. The voice-seeker wishes to remain anonymous. So, how do you determine your take on the script? It’s simple: you use your imagination. In other words: you make it up based on what you think the client might be listening for. Two hours later, some stranger trashes your demo after the first ten seconds because it’s not really what he assumes his client wants. That was time well-spent, wasn’t it?


Back in the middle of a Kitchen Nightmare, Gordon Ramsay is still observing service as he spots another basic mistake.

Because there’s no trust or effective communication, the headstrong chef/owner thinks that that he must be in charge of… everything and everyone. He’s running from dessert to entrée while arguing with the front of the house.

Within ten minutes, he’s totally overwhelmed and most of his words need to be bleeped out. Hardly any food leaves the kitchen. A lot is coming back due to poor quality. Impatient patrons have had it and vow never to come back.


I hope it’s not that extreme in your voice-over kitchen. Yet, I know it’s very tempting to believe that you can do it all by yourself. Becoming an “independent contractor” seemed to be the ideal way to escape the 9 to 5 rat race. It’s a dream come true: working from home, pursuing your passion and setting your own hours.

When you wake up, you suddenly realize that you are heading the sales department; you’re in charge of advertising and marketing; you’re designing your own website; you are the chief technician as well as the CFO. And let’s not overlook one insignificant detail: you deliver the goods!

This poor, overworked, idealistic, multi-talented genius is now working 15-hour days in the pursuit of happiness. Heaven forbid this superhuman being should get a cold…


Seriously, do you really need to do your own mixing and editing? Do you really have to master PhotoShop? Are you the best person to handle your finances and legal affairs?

Some people won’t delegate because they believe that “nobody does it better.” Others tell me they can’t afford any hired help. The end-result? Tumbling productivity, deteriorating quality, messed-up relationships and a life that’s seriously out of balance.

Frustrated, angry and alone, you look at that magnificent poster on the wall. It’s the one with the eagle soaring over pristine mountain peaks. Then you read the words written underneath.

All of a sudden, you realize that this familiar truism has surpassed the status of cliché. It has become relevant.

“The success of your business is equivalent to the strength of your relationships.”

It’s time to give that Ramsay-guy a call…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Less work, more competition, lower rates. Now what? Read the last installment in this series!

The Quest for the Best Voice-Over Mic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 1 Comment

Did you hear the joke about the three voice-over actors bragging in a bar?

“My condenser has phantom power,” says the guy with the spooky voice.

“My shotgun produces killer demos,” retorts the man in black.

“My ribbon has a suspended diaphragm,” snaps the girl in the Harlan Hogan baseball cap.

Waitress: “Anyone ordered a Blue Bottle?”

Unidentified customer: “No, I just got a Snowball.”

“Can I get some MixCubes on the side, please?”

Waitress: “Active or Passive?”


Hearing voice-overs talk is like listening to a Monty Python skit. It can be slightly surreal and silly. One thing’s for sure: many VO’s have opinions. Strong opinions, especially when it comes to gear.

Whenever people take themselves too seriously, I’d like to tickle them a little. If you ever plan on messing with the mind of a VO-pro, go to an online voice-over group and type in the following words:

“I am new to this business and I need your help. What’s the best voice-over mic?”

Unknowingly, you just released the beast. If you honestly believe that the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is a big deal, wait until you get voice-overs started on their choice of mics…

You’ll soon discover that some VO-Pros suffer from a condition the psychological community calls “Microphone Envy.” So far, there is no sound treatment for this auditory affliction.

Here are some of the comments these hired voices might make about their precious sound catchers (in order to protect their identity, I decided to name all of them ‘Mike’).

Gear Geek-Mike: “My mic has a 32 mm gold sputtered thin Mylar capsule.”

Show-off Mike: “Mine has a retail value of $7,775. I got it for 7 grand on Ebay.”

Frugal Mike: “My cheap Chinese mic sounds almost like your pricey German one.”

Model Mike: “But I cut a deal with the Germans to endorse this microphone”

Macho-Mike: “Mine is bigger and better.”

If you happen to be in the market for a microphone, these message boards might not be the best place to solicit advice. In fact, I highly recommend not asking anyone for any recommendations. Period. Not online. Not in the shop. Trust me, you’ll sleep much better. Determine how much you can afford to spend and start doing your own homework instead.

Researching mics can be good fun. Why not fire up your laptop on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and listen to a few microphone tests. The fellows on this page always manage to crack me up… They’ll say something like this:

(test: courtesy of Nethervoice Sound Laboratories)


Remember though that a microphone is only one part of an audio chain and that different people will sound differently on the same mic. One colleague just bought a brand new and very expensive German mic. It was exactly the same make and model he had purchased fifteen years ago. In spite of that, the old and the new mic had their own, distinctive sound!


Many of you have asked me what microphone I use to bring home the bacon  (not an easy thing for a vegetarian). I use an MXL VO: 1 A cardioid condenser microphone. It’s the first mic designed for voice-overs by veteran voice actor Harlan Hogan.

At $249 it is not only very affordable; should you decide it’s not for you, you can send it back because it’s sold with a no-questions-asked money back guarantee.

The VO: 1-A has been tested against much more expensive industry standard voice-over microphones such as the Sennheiser 416, the  ElectroVoice RE20 and even the Neumann U87. Without exception, the reviews have been stellar. But what matters most to me is the fact that my clients seem to like what they hear (and I have some very picky customers!).

If you experience a sudden attack of “Microphone Envy,” remember this:

Writing about microphones is like ice skating about food.

It doesn’t really make sense. Just as you can’t get wet from the word water, you don’t know if a certain microphone is the one that will flatter your voice the most by merely reading about it or by staring at a picture. You’ve got to give it a spin and use your ears.

So, have you heard the one about the two voice-overs in a bar?

With tears in his eyes, the first one exclaims:

“Why did Don LaFontaine have to go before his time? It is so unfair.”

The other one thought about it for a moment, took a deep but silent voice-over breath, and replied:

“I guess God wanted his voice back!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS This blog only reflects my personal opinion and I am not compensated in any way for featuring certain brands and/or products. It was written in 2009. These days, my microphone of choice is the Microtech Gefell M930 Ts. Click here for my review. 

A Sundial In The Shade

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 2 Comments

Taking the Oath“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been subject or citizen”.

Together with 66 other people from 31 different nations, these were the words I spoke in Philadelphia on the last day of July, 2009. With it, a six-year process came to an end. In less than a minute, this subject of the Kingdom of The Netherlands became an American citizen. My first order of business: filling out a voter registration form.

Prior to the ceremony, I went to Independence Mall to walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers. The famous crack in the Liberty Bell was a stark reminder of the fact that at a certain time in history, these truths were anything but self-evident:

“that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. 

Looking at the world today, I was painfully aware of two things: for many, these truths are still not self-evident. For many others they have become so obvious, that they are taken for granted. Some have turned them into -as someone once put it- “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Crappiness.”

America’s most interactive history museum is only a few blocks away. If you’ve never been to the National Constitution Center, you’re in for an experience that will stay with you for a long time. This Center brilliantly manages to do what we as voice-over pros do for a living: bring words to life.

Every visit starts with “Freedom Rising,” a multi-media presentation that connects visitors to the story of the U.S. Constitution. To my surprise, this production was narrated by a voice-over actor who’s actually there in person,  serving as tour guide on a historic journey.

In Signers’ Hall, I came face to face with the man who once said:

“Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Involve me and I learn.”

It was Benjamin Franklin. I know he wasn’t speaking about our line of work, but as far as I am concerned, he hit the nail on the head. Unknowingly, Franklin was speaking about the Narcissists, the Professors and the Movers of our profession.

All of us have come across audio books narrated by people who seem to be so much in love with their own voice, they turn a travelogue into an ego-trip. The biggest turn-off in audio books: two lips of a narcissist.

The Professors on the other hand, haven’t learned the following lesson: people don’t like to be lectured. People prefer to be entertained and engaged. That’s why movie stars make more money than Yale academics.

The educational staff at the Constitution Center was obviously aware of that, when they hired Movers to shake thing up a bit. Movers are voice-over artists, who selflessly devote and dedicate themselves to the words given to them, and who use their voice as a vehicle to engage and move the audience. As a result, the listener is drawn in and drawn out; totally absorbed and involved.

Movers masterfully manage to infuse and energize dry letters on a page with meaning and emotion, bringing them back from the dead in a way a musician transforms scribbles into sounds. However, it takes a true artist to turn those sounds into music that touches the heart, feeds the soul and moves the mind. 

When I took the Oath of Allegiance, I became part of “We the people,” the people of a nation where Freedom of Expression is a constitutional right. The Citizen’s Almanac I received as a welcoming gift, describes it as follows:

“Americans can speak and act as they wish as long as it does not endanger others or obstruct another’s freedom of expression in the process”.

As voice-over artist, this freedom of speech guarantees that I can do what I love without fear of persecution or imprisonment. I can pursue my interests and happiness, as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others.

For that, I feel tremendously privileged and grateful.

Without it, all of us would be -as Franklin put it- “a sundial in the shade”.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Getting the edge in voiceovers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career Comments Off on Getting the edge in voiceovers

What’s the link between a rice beverage and voice-over work?

In a “Taste the dream” contest, Rice Dream offered prize winners the chance to experience their dream job for 3 days. The ad agency that came up with this campaign thought that our line of work qualified as a ‘dream job,’ because they put a picture of a voice-over person on the milk carton.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do for a living, but since launching my business  nethervoice, I have received several emails, asking me for a reality check. Most of them go like this:

Dear Mr. Nethervoice:I am James Kumbatani, the grandson of the late Mr. Oshia Bumbayashi, grand chief of the Olali tribe. Mr. Bumbayashi left me in charge of his personal fortune valued at seven million….


Sorry, wrong email. Here’s the one I was looking for:

Dear Mr. Strikwerda:

I am an aspiring voice over artist and my dream is to break into the business. People have told me that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Do you agree? What did you bring to the table that -in your opinion- gave you an edge over other voice-over professionals? Thank you for your time.

Penny Whistle

This is what I wrote back:

Dear Penny:

Great voice-over talents make what they do sound so natural and easy, no wonder why so many people believe anyone could pull that off in a heartbeat. In reality, voice-over artists are no different from other performers or athletes. When people hear a great pianist play or watch a well-know sports star at the top of her game, they usually don’t think of all the years these pros had to put in, in order to get where they are now. Long before I became a full-time voice over pro, I learned some things that -as you put it- gave me an edge.

1. Sight Reading

Thanks to the never-ending encouragement of my mother, I’ve always been an avid reader. During my days as a news anchor for Dutch International Radio, I got used to reading last-minute news flashes and intros without skipping a beat. Today, I can print out a script, glance it over and take it into my sound booth and press ‘record.’ A few minutes later, my demo is on its way to the client. If I’m working on an actual job, however, I apply a different strategy (see 3 & 4).

2. Foreign languages

Growing up in Holland, I was exposed to many different languages and accents. I speak Dutch, English, German and some French & Portuguese. I also know some Latin and Hebrew. Unlike many Europeans, Americans usually aren’t polyglots, and I do my very best to take full advantage of that. Knowing how to pronounce unfamiliar names of people and places has been a great help in my career. Some clients like working with me, because I’m able to record the same commercial in four different languages.

3. Translating & Proofreading

I also work as a proofreader/translator, and I’m a professional nitpicker when it comes to scripts. Last-minute submissions often contain slips of the pen, and my clients are always grateful when I spot those mistakes and correct them. It shows them that I’m not just reading anything people put in front of me. It’s a great opportunity to show my clients that I care as much about their reputation as they do.

The other day, I was recording a Dutch commercial and the director asked me to translate some last-minute additions right there and then. No problem! I regularly receive international copy that was translated with the help of translation software. That’s usually a BIG red flag! I often end up correcting the work of a robot before I start recording a script that was supposedly ‘translated’.

4. Journalism

As a former newscaster, checking my sources has become second nature. Sloppy copywriters have handed me scripts with incorrect website addresses, wrong phone numbers and even company names that were misspelled. I always verify the information provided, no matter how reliable the source. Another thing I do is research the company I’m dealing with. Not only does it give me a feel for the corporate culture, I also check in with the Better Business Bureau and research the reputation of a particular business.

A word of warning: even though a company might have a good BBB rating, things could still be fishy.

A few months ago, I was approached by “European Immigration and Translation Consultants” in Florida. This company asked me to translate a birth and a marriage certificate. They received my work the very same day and they thanked me by writing out a bad check. Of course I ended up paying a fee to my bank. I asked for a money order instead, with the penalty added to the bill, but the agency refused.

After some more research, I found out that the con-sulting company was run by a con artist who was wanted by the Canadian authorities. Of course I filed a complaint with the BBB, but the company never responded. All the bureau could do was giving them an “F” rating and close the case.

5. Love of music

As an amateur musician, I developed a sense of rhythm, diction and melodic lines that is very helpful when it comes to getting into the groove of the music in a commercial or a narration. As a cornet-player and  singer, I’m blessed with increased lung capacity and breathing support. Singing is great gymnastics for your voice. It’s a fun vocal cord workout that not only gives you the stamina to complete a long recording session; it also enhances voice projection, diction and flexibility.

Penny, if you’d like to learn more about this business, I suggest you read Harlan Hogan’s “Tales and Techniques of a Voice-Over Actor.” In it, Harlan quotes Dick Moore of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFTRA (now SAGAFTRA).

Moore says that of the eighty thousand AFTRA members the union represents, no more than a hundred people do most of the voice work.

So, in order to stand out, not only do you need to be outstanding at what you do; you also need to bring something special to the table. There are thousands of hopefuls out there, and all of them believe they have a fantastic voice.

Ultimately, it’s what you can do with that voice that makes all the difference.

Best of luck to you.

Now I’m off to have a cold rice beverage.


Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice